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Reinventing the MOOC model for the real world

Posted by Chad O'Connor  October 14, 2013 11:00 AM

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In his article “Will MOOCs help you open career doors?” Scott Kirsner reveals that, while employers may be impressed by the initiative that completing a MOOC signifies, they are more interested in seeing what can be accomplished with one’s newly-won knowledge. In other words, it’s not about certificates of completion in the real world, it’s about completed pieces in a portfolio.

Working as I do for a staffing firm, I couldn’t agree more. In fact, when we launched our own MOOC program, we made employability a top objective. Here’s how the MOOC model can be modified to meet both the needs of the students and those of the companies they would like to work for.

Employer Input in Curriculum Development
Recently it was reported that Google, AT&T and others were teaming up with Udacity to “develop standards for career readiness” in the latter’s course offerings. The goal of this initiative is to ensure that the courses offered on the MOOC platform are aligned with the actual needs of the companies who may be interested in hiring MOOC students. If MOOCs are going to open career doors, letting employers tell you what courses you should teach is key.

Keep It Practical
While MOOCs have grabbed headlines for giving people from all over the world access to Ivy League institutions, Kirsner himself quotes the head of a local agency as saying education is “less than 10 percent” of what they look at in the hiring process. For this reason, we believe that the curriculum needs to have a practical focus. This means that by the end of the course, students should be able to do something they couldn’t do at the outset. This practical focus is best supported when you engage real world practitioners to develop and teach the courses. For example, our recent “Coding for Designers” MOOC was led by Jim Webb, former Design Lead at National Geographic.

Feed the Portfolio
If portfolio pieces are what employers are looking for, then you had best make sure that students leave class with portfolio pieces. You can do this most effectively by creating assignments that demonstrate a level of competence with the technology or techniques you are teaching and, ultimately, result in a finished piece. In our Responsive Web Design course, for example, the final project asks students to create a responsive portfolio site which can be used for professional gain once they’ve completed the course.

Create a Direct Connection to Employment
While most MOOC providers believe that there are career benefits to the courses they offer, they generally struggle to make this connection explicit. Creating alliances between employers and providers, as Udacity is doing, is one step in the right direction. Creating a way for employers to vet programs and cultivate trust in online learning credentials, as Degreed seems to be doing, is also an interesting tactic. But the better solution may be to have your MOOC run by an employment agency (or, frankly, an employer) so the provider can actually place students in jobs.

We believe that the rise of MOOCs presents the private sector with an unprecedented opportunity to educate the workforce of the future without needing to rely on schools, online or off. That being said, as disruptive as this development has been for higher education, these institutions have much to gain if they can tailor their MOOCs to offer skills that are needed in the “real world.”

Matthew T. Grant is Director of Content Strategy for Aquent, a global staffing organization dedicated to marketing, creative, and digital professionals, and creators of Aquent Gymnasium, a revolutionary MOOC (massive open online course) program aimed at closing the skills gap faced by creative organizations worldwide.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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